Secrets of Successful Fundraising Auctions

By Kathy Kingston, CAI, BAS

Written for The Jewish Advocate Spring 2007

How can our non profit organization raise more money?

This is the #1 question I’m asked as a fundraising auctioneer.

Non profits today are faced with an increasingly competitive fundraising climate. However, benefit auctions are booming and raised $15.6 billion for charitable causes in 2006.  In fact, benefit auctions are the second fastest growing segment of the $257.2 billion auction industry in America second only to real estate auctions. (MORPACE International, 2006)

However, I find that most nonprofit auctions don’t come close to realizing their full potential.  They could be raising much more money for their good works, and they also could be raising awareness of their cause, by applying a handful of field-proven techniques at their next benefit auction.

Why are Fundraising Auctions thriving?  They work! A good benefit auction attracts excellent publicity, increases awareness of the cause, and draw new commitment from those attending. Here are some secrets for successful benefit auctions.

#1 Focus on the Spirit of Giving

Connect your guests emotionally to your cause and they will respond generously. Showcase your non-profit and excite your guests about why the funds are needed.  Make it easy for your supporters to bond with you.

#2 Make Audience Development a Top Priority

Although procurement of great auction items remains a priority, filling your venue with the right bidders is critical to your success.  Conduct a targeted campaign to identify, invite and cultivate major donors, prospects and influence leaders.  “Power bidders” at your next event can boost your auction to the next level!

#3 Solicit High Yield Auction Items

What sells best?  Procure items that generate spirited and generous bidding; solicit items that are one-of-a-kind, personal and unique.  Great examples of auction item ideas are exotic travel, fine dining prepared by a well know chef, school class projects, and exclusive sports experiences.  Here’s the secret: know your audience and get what they want.  Solicit items that have the capacity to produce far more than the fair market value.

#4 Add FUN!

People spend more money when they are enjoying themselves.  The #1 reason people attend auctions in America is FUN. (MORPACE International, 2003) Create energy and excitement to incite those bid cards!

#5 Hire a Professional Auctioneer

Take the risk out of fundraising. While some may think that anyone with a strong voice and a sense of humor can lead an auction.  A professional fundraising auctioneer can read the audience, initiate a healthy competitive spirit, and move the bids along for maximum value. By setting a fast pace and using a quick wit, the auctioneer creates an entertaining, successful evening.

Here’s an example of how can a professional auctioneer who specializes in fundraising made a difference at Temple Israel’s annual auction.

During the Live Auction, our auctioneer pulled out his 5th grade Hebrew school report card from his tuxedo jacket. It was time for the special “Fund a Need” appeal to fund a landscaping project. “When I was a boy in 1959, we raised money for trees in Israel and I made a difference.  Tonight, we have a wonderful opportunity to plant trees around our new Temple Israel. Together we can make a difference!” Bid cards waved enthusiastically and in only five minutes enough funds were raised to complete the new landscaping project at the Temple.

Kingston Auction Company’s Jewish clients include Temple Israel in Dover, NH, Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, Martha’s Vineyard and Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead, Massachusetts.